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HTC plans to boost smartphone market in Myanmar with localized phones

HTC plans to boost the smartphone market in Myanmar through a localized Android, noting that this can be an advantage in the market given language barriers.
January 14, 2013

In the competitive world of cell phone manufacturing, any advantage is welcome, and among different advantages localization is a game changer. In some cases, it can make for a captive market. As a Taiwanese cell phone manufacturer, HTC knows this only too well, and is using localization to have a big foothold on the Myanmar mobile phone market.

HTC is set to release a phone in the country which will have the Myanmar alphabet as a built-in option. Currently, Android smartphone users have to download the Myanmar language pack and then root the phone in order to install it. Unfortunately, rooting requires a certain level of tech savvy to do, and it because it revises the operating system, it usually invalidates the smartphone warranty. Additionally, there are two competing standards on implementing the alphabet on cellphones and this has adversely affected cell phone sales and adoption.

Due to government restrictions, Myanmar has one of the lowest mobile phone and internet penetrations. The country has a population of 60 million, with a per capita gross domestic product estimated at $1,300. Besides security restrictions, the cost of a SIM card is a very expensive $250. There are about 1.24 million cell phone users, for a penetration rate of only 3%. It has a great growth potential and remains as one of the few untapped markets in Asia. Samsung was the first cell phone company to introduce Android phones to the market, and has taken that advantage to carve out a big following.

However, language issues plague cell phone manufacturers. With only a small population that speaks English, or any other major foreign language, cell phones have to be localized for the language and alphabet.

The problem is not lost on HTC CEO Peter Chou. Chou was born in Myanmar and knows that introducing a phone that can be used out of the box will be a big boon to business. HTC’s approach would help solve that problem, at the same time give it a big marketing advantage. With the help of a local distributor and a software developer, HTC customized Android to use the Myanmar language without any need for customization. Myanmar users would be able to use their devices natively fresh from the store.

Myanmar is slowly opening up to the rest of the world. It will be hosting the Southeast Asian Games in December. The last time the country hosted the games was in 1969. Among the changes which are being introduced in time for the games are cheaper SIM cards. The Department of Mobile Communications at Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) plans to introduce three-month SIM cards worth $15 at airports and other entry terminals. These will be sold to foreigners only starting June 2013. Cheaper cards will also be sold for the local market before that time.

Other mobile brands and telcos are making a play for Myanmar. After getting into the Cambodian market, Axiata is looking at also entering the cell phone market in the country. The Vietnam Mobile Telecom Services Company (VMS) is also looking at expanding to Myanmar. With more telcos in Myanmar, HTC’s custom Android localization would be a big step forward for both the company and Myanmar consumers.